Colonial Statue Protesters Target Canada’s Scottish-born Founder

Colonial Statue Protesters Target Canada’s Scottish-born Founder

John A Macdonald,

Marc Horne | The Times UK

A statue of the Scottish-born founding father of the Canadian nation has been toppled in a symbolic rebuff almost 130 years after his death.

Officials in Victoria, capital of British Columbia, decided to remove the bronze statue of Sir John A Macdonald, Canada’s first prime minister, because of his treatment of the country’s indigenous population.

Macdonald, whose family emigrated from Glasgow in the early 19th century, brokered the deal that established the country 150 years ago. He was also the architect of the 1876 Indian Act, which led to native Canadian children being forcibly taken from their parents.            

Lisa Helps, Victoria’s left-wing mayor, said that the Macdonald statue was a “painful reminder of colonial violence” and deserved to be toppled, while opponents accused her of trying to erase history.

The Conservative leader of Ontario, however, has made a formal request for the statue so it can be re-erected 2,000 miles away on the country’s eastern seaboard.

The dispute over Macdonald’s legacy echoes protests, which led to violent clashes last year, about whether Confederate statues should be allowed to remain in place in some USA states.

In Australia, an electoral ward named after Angus McMillan, a Scottish settler once revered for helping to establish the state of Victoria, is to be renamed after an outcry about his massacres of Aboriginal people.

There were cheers from anti-racism campaigners when the 37-year-old statue of Macdonald was pulled from its plinth outside Victoria City Hall on Saturday. Opponents of the decision, who were draped in Canadian and Union flags, sang a forlorn rendition of O Canada, the national anthem.

Ms Helps claimed that she only recently became aware of Macdonald’s most controversial policy, which led to 100,000 children being sent to residential institutions in an attempt to remove all traces of their “savage” heritage.

“I have an undergraduate degree in Canadian history, a master’s in Canadian history and a half-completed PhD in Canadian history,” she said. “It was not until we began a witness reconciliation programme that I learnt about the role that Canada’s first prime minister played in developing residential schools, the effects of which are well known to be still felt today, both by school attendees and their children and grandchildren.

“We do not propose to erase history but rather to tell this complex and painful chapter of Canadian history in a thoughtful way.

“After an appropriate amount of time has passed, a cleansing, blessing and healing ceremony will be held in the space where the statue formerly stood.”

Geoff Young, a Victoria City Councillor, opposed the removal of the statue. He said: “Unfortunately, by taking the statue away and putting it in storage with only a couple of days’ notice, we are creating more discord and disharmony rather than helping this debate.”

Todd Smith, house leader of Ontario’s regional government, has written to Ms Helps to make a formal request to take Macdonald’s likeness off the city’s hands.

He said: “As father of the confederation and our first prime minister, Sir John A Macdonald holds a significant place in the hearts of many Canadians and should be honoured accordingly.

“Our government does not believe his memory and legacy should collect dust in a storage facility.”

Andrew Scheer, the leader of the opposition Conservative Party, tweeted: “We should not allow political correctness to erase our history.”

Officials in Victoria rejected the approach from Ontario and the statue will remain in storage for the foreseeable future. A city spokeswoman said that efforts would be made to find a “more suitable context” for it.

Macdonald had featured on Canada’s $10 note since 1971 but was replaced this year by Viola Desmond, a black civil rights activist who challenged racial segregation by refusing to leave the whites-only section of a Nova Scotia cinema in 1946.

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Comments

  • Clyde Duncan  On August 15, 2018 at 11:09 pm

    Hello Clyde,

    Thanks for sharing this piece which brought out some interesting and unpleasant facts about someone who received a great honour in having a statue erected of him.

    After reading it I felt a huge surge in pride and satisfaction when I compared it to what Stanley Greaves and I had created in the mural which we installed in the Dome of the then Barclays Bank DCO head office in Water Street, Georgetown.

    We depicted in the mural eight figures of importance in Guyana’s development, the eight selected with great care by ourselves along with historians, Dr. Robert Moore and Vere Daly.

    The eight ‘Builders’ as they have come to be known, are all people of strong character who made a great contribution to Guyana and which makes Stanley and myself feel extremely proud to have created this Mural, a tribute that all Guyanese should be proud of.

    Just in case you have not seen it, the eight characters , in no particular order are, Cuffy, L S van Gravesande, Quamina, Patrick Dargan, Ocean Shark (Pork Knocker), J A Luckhoo, James Crosby (the only Englishman in the group) and Dr. George Giglioli.

    There is also a central image of Makanaima, the great ancestral spirit of the Amerindians.

    The bank is now owned locally and is known as The Guyana Bank for Trade and Industry.

    Ok ah gone Tony Phillips

    PS: I am in the process of writing a book about how the Mural was made.

  • Clyde Duncan  On August 15, 2018 at 11:20 pm

    Hmmm!

    What are your views on this Clyde?

    Jerald

    Jerald: A lot of what we are now learning about the past, can be attributed to statues, monuments, or crab-foot on walls [Hieroglyphs] all over the place.

    Example: Easter Island heads – we now know they have bodies.

    They still cannot figure out Stonehenge and the Pyramids … But, give them time.

    I suppose this is one way of enlightening the Mayor and the rest of the Canadian population.

    I suppose when we walk by one of these objects and ask “Wha’ is duh?” or Who? Where? When? Why? We kick-start the learning process.

    Ah done!

    Clyde

  • Clyde Duncan  On August 16, 2018 at 7:23 pm

    Macdonald had featured on Canada’s $10 note since 1971 but was replaced this year by Viola Desmond, a black civil rights activist who challenged racial segregation by refusing to leave the whites-only section of a Nova Scotia cinema in 1946.

    I can find a home for all the retired Canadian $10 bills. – Philip – UK

    • Emanuel  On August 16, 2018 at 10:28 pm

      How much are those retired $10 C worth? Are they still legal tender? Good on Viola – the Canadian Rosa Parks.

  • Clyde Duncan  On August 20, 2018 at 2:27 am

    People without any proper knowledge of history are making up completely false narratives and attributing things to the country’s founder, Sir John A. Macdonald.

    It is getting completely ridiculous.

    Sir John A. united Canada, built a national railroad that joined eastern and western Canada, and from his office in Ottawa via the stories he heard from the far reaches of the desolate wasteland known as Canada – No internet, then; No transcontinental highway system; No cars — only horses; No telephone system; No police force and No postal service – he decided that young ‘First Nations’ children in danger of starvation should be saved by the government to preserve their race and culture.

    All this from the goodness of his heart in his office thousands of miles away — never having been there.

    In retrospect, as only armchair quarterbacks can do, Sir John A. was incredibly naïve — except that all of the abuse of First Nations children at the hands of people in the residential school system that Sir John A. created and donated his own funds toward — didn’t happen until decades after he was dead.

    Yes, people need to check their history.

    Abuse at government-run schools and religious schools didn’t begin to happen until decades after Sir John A.’s death.

    Now we’re tearing down his statues all because the good things he tried to do when he was alive, was torn asunder by evil minded human garbage, who probably wouldn’t mind Sir John A. is now getting all the blame.

    These horribly wrong events happened long after Sir John A. Macdonald was dead.

    You want to blame someone, blame the people who actually did those horrific crimes, not the man who created the country and who, perhaps, naively tried to help – what he heard were – starving First Nations children days away from death.

    This whole re-writing of history and the false narrative is shameful in the extreme.

    Regards, JBS

  • Clyde Duncan  On August 20, 2018 at 2:40 am

    SNP Disowns the ‘Father of Canada’ Over Colonial Past

    Marc Horne | The Times UK

    The SNP government has disowned the Glasgow-born founding father of Canada over his treatment of the country’s indigenous peoples.

    Sir John A Macdonald, whose family emigrated from Scotland in the early 19th century, brokered the deal that established the country 150 years ago, but was also behind the notorious Indian Act which led to First Nations children being forcibly taken from their parents.

    The Victorian statesman used to be venerated as a heroic “Son of Scotland and Father of Canada” on official Scottish government websites.

    However, all references to him have now been excised amid unease over his legacy.

    A statue of the Scottish-Canadian was toppled by city officials in Victoria, British Columbia, last weekend, while a bust of Macdonald was daubed with red paint by anti-racist protesters in Montreal on Saturday.

    An essay, which was posted on the government website, Scotland.org, last June, heaped unequivocal praise on the country’s first prime minister. “It’s impossible to write about the history of Canada without mentioning Sir John A Macdonald, a proud Scotsman,” it read.

    “He is revered for his key role in the formation of the country as we know it today and is heart-warmingly referred to as the Father of Canada. . . He brought together people from opposing walks of life and helped develop a strong sense of community.”

    It made no reference to his policy which led to 100,000 children being sent to residential institutions in an attempt to remove all traces of their “savage” heritage. It also did not mention his efforts to stem Chinese immigration to Canada over his fear they could create a “mongrel race”.

    The article has now been removed and replaced with the message: “We dinnae ken where the page has gone”.

    A Scottish government spokeswoman said: “We acknowledge controversy around Sir John A Macdonald’s legacy and the legitimate concerns expressed by indigenous communities.”

    The government has been the main sponsor of Sir John A’s Great Canadian Kilt Skate, where members of the Scottish diaspora take to the ice in seven cities to celebrate his birthday every January. Last week it said that its involvement with the event would be reviewed.

    It is the latest in a series rebuffs for the once universally venerated Scottish-Canadian. Macdonald has featured on Canada’s $10 note since 1971 but will be replaced later this year by Viola Desmond, a black civil rights activist who refused to leave the whites-only section of a Nova Scotia cinema in 1946.

    His statue, which stood outside Victoria City Hall for 37 years, has been put in storage after its mayor said it was a “painful reminder of colonial violence”.

    Sir John’s Public House, a popular Scottish-themed bar in his adopted home province of Ontario, has been renamed The Public House following complaints.

    Last night the Scottish government confirmed that it will be opening a new office in Ottawa next month to bolster ties between the two countries.

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